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How to Control Your Smartphone Addiction

Ah, vacation…finally.
 
You’ve spent all year looking forward to your beach getaway to spend quality time with your family and disconnect from the rest of the world. You recorded your vacation voice mail; you let your team know you’re really letting go of the office this time; and you set your “out of office” reminder on your email.
 
Here you are, sitting in your lounge chair with your feet in the sand and sun on your face, and the sound of ocean waves in the distance. But instead of reading the book you brought, you find yourself reading an office email about a problem that bothers you, and you’re annoyed.
 
How did this happen? You had good intentions. You weren’t going to check your email; you promised your family you wouldn’t be tethered to your work phone, for once.
 
You’re not alone. Like millions of Americans, you’ve fallen victim to the addictive device.

A recent study by Asurion found that Americans, on average, check their phone once every 12 minutes, or five times an hour, while on vacation. Some Americans check their phone nearly 300 times a day.
 
Taking a vacation from email
While much of this phone focus might be on social media, news, or game apps, many employees check their email while on vacation, for fear of missing out (FOMO) or returning to a flood of emails.
 
Some have real fear of losing status in companies that create 24/7 online cultures. Sure, the company rhetoric talks about “work-life balance” but in reality your boss still expects a reply in the middle of the night, or on vacation. “I know you’re on vacation, but…”
 
In some countries, companies are starting to establish policies in order to help their employees actually enjoy the benefits of work-life balance relating to email.
 
German automaker Daimler instituted the “Mail on Holiday” email policy, allowing employees to auto-delete any emails they receive while they’re away. The auto response gives three options to those who send you emails: it notifies them that their emails will be deleted; if it’s truly important, they can email a colleague you’ve identified; or they can email you again, after you have returned from vacation. The email policy allows employees to actually have time away from the office and unplug from the digital world worry free.

But checking work email during vacation is only a symptom of the larger problem: whether on vacation or not, we have become addicted to our devices, especially our phones.
 
And this is understandable because the content on your phone is scientifically designed to be addictive.
 
You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s the powerful neurochemical that gives you that positive rush when it pings into the pleasure center of your brain. It happens every time you do that thing that is most pleasurable to you, from eating chocolate to achieving a goal to, well, whatever you find so pleasurable.
 
Dopamine is at the heart of any addiction of human beings, including drugs, alcohol, and gambling. So it’s understandable that social media companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have hired teams of scientists to develop the most highly addictive programs possible.
 
Phone addiction
This was confirmed by media-buying firm RadiumOne’s study of Australian consumers and found that dopamine is also released when we use social media. The study concluded that, “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment, or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.”
 
The retweets, likes, and shares also provide a positive reinforcement and reward. Sometimes you don’t even have to physically touch your phone in order to receive positive feelings.
 
Mauricio Delgado, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, shares:
 
Often, if you have the earliest predictor of a reward—a sign of a social media alert, like your phone buzzing—you get a rush of dopamine from that condition stimulus. That might trigger you to go check out the outcome, to see what it is.
 
Responsibility of companies
Even the social media platforms themselves have been forced to admit their time-wasting impact. In a Facebook post earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said a big goal for 2018 was “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.”
 
And Apple says tools in its new iPhone operating system will “help customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices.”
 
There will be new ways to manage how notifications are delivered and Do Not Disturb will have new modes. The most promising feature is Screen Time, which will provide a detailed report of the total amount of time spent in each application and show how often devices are picked up.
 
These are much-needed changes as the research finds the average American checks the phone 80 times a day.
 
Solutions to Unplug
 
Here are a few other tips for you to consider in getting your phone-use habits under control during vacation or throughout your life:
 
Be aware
Besides monitoring your usage with apps, it’s important to be mindful of how and why you’re using social media. It’s important to be intentional with your time and energy. Choose platforms that connect you with others and foster positivity in your life; this can look different from person to person.
 
Set limits
While completely refraining from social media during vacation is a great goal, it may not be for everyone. Some might set aside a certain amount of time each day to engage on social media, while others may want to limit themselves to just one or two platforms.
 
There’s an app for that
While it may seem counterintuitive, you can use an app to help you stop looking at other apps. The Forest app helps you stay focused by showing a seed being planted in a forest, gradually growing into a tree. The longer you leave your phone untouched, the longer the tree will keep growing. But if you leave the app, your tree will die. The growing tree is your reward for staying away from your phone.
 
The app Mute keeps track of how often you check your phone and your daily screen time. You can set goals in the app to help you use your phone less often. It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable.
 
Turn it off
Many people struggle with using social media in moderation and should consider truly unplugging from it. This can range from turning your notifications off to deleting the social media apps from your phone entirely for a given period of time.
 
Digital detox
In order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, many advocate regular breaks from it. A new trend is to practice media-free weekends, using the time to rest and recharge offline.
 
Kick your phone out of the bedroom
Whether they’re on vacation or not, many Americans have difficulty falling asleep – and staying asleep. In my speeches, I’ll ask for a show of hands on whether people look at their phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning, and in the middle of the night. The vast majority of the audience cops to the first two and a lot of hands go up for the third.
 
Did you know that the blue light and the stimulation of the content can prevent a restful night’s sleep?.
 
In fact, a study of young adults in the United States by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the strongest indicator of disturbed sleep is social media use during the 30 minutes right before bed. (By the way, another study by NIH found a clear link with social media and increased depression among young adults.)
 
Try charging your phone in another room so that you’re not tempted to look at it. Consider replacing social media with another activity like reading or journaling, in order to unwind before bed.
 
This year the Iphone, which started the smartphone revolution, turned 11. While the phone’s use brings tremendous benefits, it’s up to each of us to understand its toll and take control.
 
Please contact me to let me know any stories you have about the effects of smartphones on you or other people.

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John